Everest: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Climb It

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Huddled over
a hand-held radio in a tent 27,230ft up on the icy slopes of Mount
Everest, mountaineering guide Dan Mazur faced the hardest decision
of his life. Outside it was dark and bitterly cold, and snow battered
the tent’s exterior as it was whipped up by the strong winds.

Some 1,000
feet above, four members of Mr Mazur’s climbing team were out
in the deteriorating conditions, fighting to keep a fifth member
and friend, Peter Kinloch, alive. Earlier in the day, Mr Kinloch,
a 28-year-old Scotsman who worked as an IT specialist for Merseyside
Police, had achieved his lifelong ambition to reach the summit of
the world’s highest mountain.

But during
the long, exhausting descent, Mr Kinloch, an experienced mountaineer,
began to get into trouble. His eyesight rapidly deteriorated as
he and 10 other climbers in the expedition, run by mountaineering
firm Summit Climb, retraced their steps down from the peak.

For more than
12 hours the leader of the summit team, David O’Brien, and
three Sherpas struggled to get Mr Kinloch down the steep ice falls,
snow-covered slopes and rock faces to the relative safety of their
camp. Running low on oxygen, food and water, the team were fast
losing strength in the harsh conditions and thin air. The extreme
cold was also taking its toll in the form of frostbite. With Mr
Kinloch unable to walk, appearing to suffer from severe altitude
sickness and apparently refusing medication, it was a desperate
situation.

Mr Mazur, who
was the leader of the 2010 Summit Climb expedition to Mount Everest,
was at risk of losing five members of his team. After a painful
deliberation with the team doctor, he requested that the rescuers
came down, leaving Mr Kinloch on the mountain, where he died.

Mr Kinloch’s
tragic death, which took place on May 25 but was only revealed last
Wednesday, and the harrowing decision faced by his team-mates, have
reopened a wound that plagues the climbing and mountaineering community
year after year. During a short two-month season between the end
of March and the end of May – when weather conditions are at
their kindest and hundreds of mountaineers flock to the Himalaya
in a bid to conquer the world’s highest peak – the wider
world is left struggling to comprehend the attraction of Everest,
along with the life and death decisions that are taken by those
on its slopes.

Everest’s
history is littered with stories of climbers who have been left
to die and others who, in their lust to reach the summit, have walked
past mountaineers in trouble. There are also tales of extraordinary
rescues and individuals who put their own lives on the line to help
others. It is a place where the ordinary rules that dictate people’s
behaviour seem to be suspended; a mountain that brings out both
the worst and best of human nature.

For some veteran
mountaineers, Everest has come to represent everything that is rotten
in the world of climbing. Since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
became the first people to stand on the so-called “Roof of
the World” in 1953, the number of people climbing Everest has
steadily increased. This year alone, 470 people reached the top
of the 29,029ft high mountain, taking the total number of summits
since that first ascent past the 5,000 mark. But only in the past
10 years have the numbers of people climbing to the summit dramatically
increased.

There are now
more than 20 commercial companies that offer to guide and support
clients, who are often paying in excess of £20,000 a time,
up to the summit. Fixed ropes, put in place by teams of Sherpas
at the start of each season, run up the entire length of the main
routes to the summit.

“Climbing
Everest now means joining a horrendous queue of people slogging
up the mountain,” explains Sir Chris Bonington, a British mountaineer
and explorer who reached the summit of Everest in 1985 and has led
three other expeditions there.

“The problem
is that a lot of these people aren’t actually climbers. Within
the climbing community, there is a strong ethos that if anyone is
in trouble, you drop what you are doing and go help them. A lot
of the people going up Everest have just decided they want to climb
Everest.”

Everest basecamps
– there are two, one on each side of the mountain – have
now become so busy with expeditions and tourists that they resemble
small towns. Hundreds of tents fill the area, and the detris of
decades of visitors lie scattered on the ground. On the Tibetan
side, makeshift buildings and an army barracks mark the basecamp
village, and some climbers report that drugs and prostitutes have
become rife. There are worries, too, that Chinese plans to build
a permanent road to the camp could lead to further problems.

Read
the rest of the article

June
8, 2010

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